The first outbreak of Chikungunya in India was recorded as early as the 1970s.
In the Kimakonde language, the term “Chikungunya” means “to be bent out of normal shape”. The meaning represents the joint pain that the patients of this disease suffer from. The earliest case of this disease was found in the 1950s in the United Republic of Tanzania. Further outbreaks were later seen in certain parts of Asia.
Over the years, the disease was found to actively spread to other parts of the world. Today, it has been recorded in around 110 countries. Interestingly, it is seen to be more effectively transmitted in regions with habitants who have never been infected.
But, what is Chikungunya? How does it spread? And what steps should an individual take to protect themselves? Let’s find out in the article below!
What is Chikungunya?
The Chikungunya virus or CHIKV is an RNA virus. This means that it stores its genetic information as RNA, instead of DNA. When caught by an individual, this infection manifests as fever and severe joint pain.
The disease is popularly misdiagnosed because it shares symptoms with Dengue and Zika. Fortunately, the infection is not known to cause many deaths. The symptoms rarely become severe. Regardless, Chikungunya can cause a lot of discomfort to the patient. It is important to prevent infection to safeguard oneself from joint pain and other symptoms.
To understand the best ways to prevent its spread, first, let’s learn how the virus is transmitted.
How does someone catch Chikungunya?
There’s only one Chikungunya cause known, which is its transmission through the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquitoes that are known to spread the virus are- Aedes aegypti mosquito and Aedes albopictus. A notable thing about these mosquitoes is that they can also spread the Zika and dengue virus.
The Chikungunya virus or CHIKV spreads in a very interesting way. An uninfected mosquito bites a patient and catches the infection. The virus then multiplies in the body of the mosquito. After several days of development, it reaches its salivary glands. Now, the mosquito can also transmit this virus by biting uninfected people.
A thing to note about the Chikungunya mosquitoes is they majorly bite during daytime. They can bite both indoors and outdoors.
Once you have caught the infection, the disease may take somewhere between 2 to 12 days to manifest. What are some of the symptoms that mark its onset? Let’s find out.
Chikungunya symptoms to look out for
You must have heard of the joint pain that accompanies a Chikungunya infection. Below, you will find a detailed list of some other symptoms that you can look out for:
Sudden development of fever
Development of rashes
The symptoms may range from mild to severe. In some cases, the joint pain may persist even after recovery. In elderly patients, there are also chances of the development of severe diseases and complications. These complications may include ailments of the eyes, heart, and even the brain. Newly born children are also at a similar risk, especially if some underlying diseases are present in them. Severe developments may increase the chances of death.
Another notable thing is the similarity of this infection with diseases like Dengue and Zika. This similarly often leads to misdiagnosis.
Popular Chikungunya treatments
The CHIKV infection can be detected with the help of blood samples. It is detectable starting from the first week of illness. The RT-PCR or Reverse Transcriptase–Polymerase Chain Reaction test is used to diagnose the presence of this infection. This test can be done in the first week itself.
After the first week, several other kinds of tests can also detect the disease. These diagnostic methods check the presence of antibodies in the body. These antibodies can be detected up to 2 months after the onset of the illness.
Like most other viral diseases, there’s no antiviral drug that may be prescribed to treat CHIKV. But, healthcare professionals focus on addressing the symptoms. There are medicines prescribed to ease the fever, joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, etc.
In addition to the medicines, the doctors also advise ample rest and water intake to support the body's healing process.
How can you protect yourself?
Like every other mosquito-borne disease, the best way to protect oneself from Chikungunya is to get rid of mosquitoes around you. You may use various mosquito repellants, and keep doors and windows closed.
Do not let stagnant water stand for too long near your house. This is where there are most chances of breeding mosquito colonies. In case of establishment of a mosquito colony, make sure you clean that area, & empty the water container that has caused the breeding. Get rid of any piling-up waste regularly, and participate in the local mosquito control drives.
On the other hand, for an infected individual, it is advised to prevent mosquito bites during the initial phase of infection. A Chikungunya patient is most likely to infect a mosquito and encourage spread during this phase.
Even Though Chikungunya is a curable disease, some cases may also cause severe complications and long-term joint pain. To save oneself from discomfort and pain, it is important to practice advised prevention techniques. A clean and mosquito-free environment is the best way to prevent the spread of CHIKV.
In case you do end up catching the infection, it is important to take proper rest and increase fluid intake. Being in touch with your healthcare provider is also important to diagnose the development of any complication. Early diagnosis can help in efficient treatment.
Diseases like Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya are fairly avoidable. Just practising a little caution can go a long way. So, be mindful of keeping your surroundings clean, dry, and mosquito-free.
The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri
Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.